Monday, December 28, 2015

This CANNOT be true - no no no no no no NO

What is Death Cafe?

At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death.

Our objective is 'to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives'.

A Death Cafe is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session.

Our Death Cafes are always offered:

- On a not for profit basis

- In an accessible, respectful and confidential space

- With no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action

- Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!

If you're interested in holding a Death Cafe please see our how-to guide.

Death Cafe is a 'social franchise'. This means that people who sign up to our guide and principles can use the name Death Cafe, post events to this website and talk to the press as an affiliate of Death Cafe.

Death Cafes have spread quickly across Europe, North America and Australasia. As of today, we have offered 2653 Death Cafes since September 2011. If 10 people came to each one that would be 26530 participants. We've established both that there are people who are keen to talk about death and that many are passionate enough to organise their own Death Cafe.

The Death Cafe model was developed by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid, based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz.

Death Cafe has no staff and is run on a voluntary basis by Jon Underwood in Hackney, East London. Also Lizzy Miles who ran the first Death Cafe in the U.S. and Megan Mooney who runs the Death Cafe Facebook page have played a significant role in Death Cafe's development.

We remain energised by the amazing quality of the dialogue at our events and are overwhelmed by the interest we have received.

People often ask why we doing this. Everyone has their own reasons for getting involved in Death Cafe. In the video below, Death Cafe Portland organiser Kate Brassington gives hers.

Our History

In 2010 Jon Underwood decided to develop a series of projects about death one of which was to focus on talking about death. In November Jon read about the work of Bernard Crettaz in the Independent newspaper. Inspired by Bernard's work, Jon immediately decided to use similar model for his own project, and Death Cafe was born.

Bernard Crettaz

The first Death Cafe in the UK was offered in Jon's house in Hackney, East London in September 2011. It was facilitated by pychotherapist Sue Barsky Reid, Jon's mum. It was a wonderful occasion. We went on to offer Death Cafes in a range of places including funky cafes, people's houses, cemeteries, a yurt and the Royal Festival Hall.

Jon and Sue Barsky Reid produced a guide to running your own Death Cafe, based around the methodology Sue developed. This was published in Feb. 2012 and first person to pick it up outside of the UK was Lizzy Miles in Columbus, Ohio. Subsequently hundreds of people have worked with us to provide Death Cafes across the globe.

Death Cafe has received some lovely media coverage including:

- Death Be Not Decaffeinated: Over Cup, Groups Face Taboo New York Times (front page!)

- Death Cafes Breathe Life Into Conversations About Dying NPR

- The death cafe movement: Tea and mortality Independent

- 'Death cafes' normalize a difficult, not morbid, topic USA Today

We are currently working to establish a real Death Cafe in London. Read more.

Death Cafe is also:
- On Facebook:
- On Twitter: @deathcafe

Shout outs

Many thanks to:

Sean Legassick of Datamage who hosts the Death Cafe website for free

Phil Cooper of Petit Mal who designed the Death Cafe logo.

BLOGGER'S NOTE. This cannot be true! Perhaps it's an elaborate internet hoax. But here it is. My jaw literally dropped when I saw it. It's one of those, "well, hey, why not?" things, one of those "let's break the final taboo" things - I guess. But I wonder if people come covered in black skull tattoos and all-over flesh piercings, with Megadeath tshirts. Or pictures of Edgar Allan Poe. I wonder if they sit around in graveyards at night, spooking each other out or howling at the moon.

These are, of course, stereotypes. The only time we do "death trips" is at Halloween. Normally, when someone actually dies, it's pretty sanitized. We use terms like "passed away" or "passed on" or sometimes, as in grade school, "passed".

So is this bad or what? Is it "healthy" rather than "unhealthy"? I don't know, but I will admit my very first uncensored reaction to this site was to be shocked, offended, angry, a little queasy, and thinking "this is a whole new low in bad taste". 

It's not the fact that the subject is death. I believe we need to engage with the reality of it much more deeply than we do. It's the fact that this looks like a strainingly artificial attempt to be "cool" about it. I'm not sure why this is - maybe the breezy, oh-so-normal tone of the site, which made me shake my head and think it was a parody of something-or-other - but I get this strange feeling my strong personal reaction to it would be seen as uncool or even pitiable. "You obviously carry a lot of unresolved grief. Here, let me show you how to process it so that you may at last lead a healthy and productive life." 

Any group of humans contains know-it-alls, often cruel ones, and this group does not seem to have any official leadership. Thus the wounded could end up even more wounded. Then again, I am not sure emotion is encouraged in this sort of group, since the site with its skull-emblazoned china cups and black graveyard cakes seems (ironically) creepy and devoid of affect.

I find it hard to even look at this page, though I am trying to read as much of it as I can before dissing it. Maybe it's just the way the information is presented, as if they're getting together to discuss orchid species or dog breeds. This gives me the feeling that you may well have to keep grief out of it and keep the conversation on the lighter side, or at least philosophical rather than experiential. It surely does not strike me as a support group. So how do they screen out the bereaved, who may have a desperate need to talk about their feelings?

Death has swallowed some of my nearest and dearest, sucked them into the void from whence no one ever returns. Some of them have been suicides. Is this really drawing room conversation, do you think? Do these people think a combination of irony and detachment can somehow keep the horror away?

Dying is no tea party, people. It is an abyss, and no one comes back from it. It leaves a mark on one's life forever. The death of loved ones is far more brutalizing to contemplate than your own, which sometimes seems like a blessed release.

Howling with grief in a hospital ward, feeling your life has come to an end, finding no meaning in it whatsoever and hating the idiots who parrot at you "everything happens for a reason" - these grief reactions just don't fit into a tea party because they're signs that people aren't philosophical enough in their grief. They haven't processed it properly and need to get cracking. There's a right way to do this, and it doesn't involve collapsing in hysterics on a hospital floor. Doesn't fit very well with Peek Freans and china cups (even with skulls on them) balanced on your lap. 

Tea party and death, death and tea party. The best this can be is ironic, and the worst - dreadfully insensitive. It occurs to me that this emotionally neutral approach is far worse than "he is not dead, he is just away"  in dehumanizing the whole subject. At the same time, these people are dreadfully hypocritical in their claim to bring death out in the open in a "healthy" way. Healthy, I guess, so long as you aren't uncool enough to start getting all messy and emotional about it. 

Can death and grief be neatly separated? Is that what we're being asked to do here? Isn't that the whole problem in our culture - that we've forgotten how to grieve when someone dies, or are simply not allowed to? Would a grieving person ever feel welcome at one of these skull-decorated-teacup soirees? If not, what the hell is wrong with the organizers? 

Jesus! Do these guys really know what they are talking about?

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